California Saves Lives with the Naloxone Distribution Project

By Chelsea Kelleher, Senior Policy Consultant

On Saturday, January 12th, police responded to a call from a house in suburban Chico, California. When they arrived, the officers found 13 individuals unconscious, apparently the result of a mass drug overdose. Officers administered Narcan, the nasal spray form of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and were able to revive 12 of the 13 individuals. Authorities later discovered that the overdose was caused by the presence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin.

Reviving the individuals who overdosed was possible because of the quick work of the Chico police and fire department emergency responders, as well as the availability of naloxone. Naloxone reverses overdoses by blocking opioid receptors, causing a person experiencing an overdose to wake from unconsciousness. The naloxone used by the Chico Police came from the Naloxone Distribution Project (NDP) which is administered by the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), as part of the State’s Opioid Response (SOR) grant. The SOR grant is funded through 2020 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which provided all 50 states with grants to combat the opioid epidemic through treatment and prevention efforts.

The Naloxone Distribution Project

As part of the NDP, organizations can apply to DHCS for naloxone and have the product shipped directly. So far, more than 200,000 units of naloxone have been distributed to more than 800 organizations in nearly every county in California. Harbage Consulting helps administer the NDP by reviewing and processing applications and communicating with stakeholders who may benefit from free access to naloxone. Program data suggests that the naloxone is going to counties with the highest overdoes rates.

The NDP has provided free naloxone to churches, health care providers, harm reduction organizations, tribal organizations, schools, and first responders. More than 40 percent of the naloxone distributed has gone to law enforcement and harm reduction organizations, the two groups most likely to respond to an overdose. Harm reduction organizations, such as syringe exchange programs, play an invaluable role in connecting with people at risk of an overdose, providing training on how to administer naloxone, and distributing free naloxone kits.

Law enforcement entities have also played a significant role in the project. City police departments, university police departments, county jails, and prisons have all received large shipments of naloxone, and many have reported successful overdose reversals using the medication.

More Work to be Done

The program comes at an important time for the opioid crisis in California. While opioid prescribing rates have fallen, overdoses continue to rise. This is likely due to the increased presence of heroin and counterfeit pills on the illicit market, which can be laced with fentanyl. Recent data from California’s Opioid Data Dashboard show an alarming rise in the rate of overdose deaths involving fentanyl, nearly doubling from 2017 to 2018.

Like many local governments participating in NDP, the city of Chico remains vigilant about combatting overdoses. Several organizations in the area, including CSU Chico and the North Valley Harm Reduction Coalition, now offer free trainings and overdose reversal kits. The NDP will continue to play a vital role in providing naloxone to vulnerable communities across California as the state works to decrease the alarming rate of overdose deaths.

Harbage Consulting is proud to support the Department of Health Care Services’ behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment work.